More than three years after it was unveiled, Santa Barbara’s gang injunction will be tried in Judge Colleen Sterne’s courtroom beginning, ironically, on Cinco de Mayo, a celebration of the day badly outnumbered Mexican troops defeated French occupation forces 160 years ago. As written, the injunction names 30 adult alleged gang members and would significantly limit their rights to assemble with other gang members, especially near public schools and park.
City Hall and the District Attorney’s Office have said the injunction is necessary to protect young teens from older gang recruiters, but defense attorneys have contended they have yet to be given all the necessary documentation to properly evaluate claims that their clients constitute “the baddest of the bad,” as they were initially described by Police Chief Cam Sanchez. Critics of the injunction showed up in court Monday to wage silent vigil against the measure, which they contend is unnecessary, counterproductive, and unconstitutional.
At a special council meeting on the budget held Monday, Councilmember Cathy Murillo took the opportunity to grill city budget experts on the negative impact they thought the injunction might have on property values. Murillo argued that real estate agents would be forced to disclose to potential buyers if the property in question was located in one of the city’s two safety zones. This, she said, would push property taxes down, leading to a loss of city revenue. Councilmember Frank Hotchkiss — who supports the proposed injunction as ardently as Murillo opposes it — said that as a practicing real estate agent, he thought other real estate agents would use the presence of the safety zones “in a positive way” to help them market properties. Murillo is hoping to enlist the real estate and tourism industries to oppose the injunction on the grounds that it’s bad for business.
Later in the meeting, Councilmember Dale Francisco said he believed that gang activity, coupled with the abiding presence of street people on State Street, required City Hall to authorize the hiring of more police officers. Murillo noted that even according to the police department’s own crime statistics, gang activity is down, not up. Limited city funds should be earmarked on youth programs to keep young people out of gangs, she argued, instead of hiring more officers. “We don’t need to fearmonger on that,” she said